Jul 2nd, 2019
Walking past the long line of fans queuing up outside the Old Vic stage door, I couldn't help but wonder if they knew exactly what they were letting themselves in for when they bought tickets to see Endgame.
Certainly, they knew they'd see Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming in the flesh. But this is surely one of the least populist star-led productions for quite a while, and the absurdity of seeing Radcliffe and Cumming in this setting creates a suitable context for Beckett's play. Endgame frustrates, delights and bores, and is equal parts revelatory and completely inane. Cumming's Hamm is played whimsically which neatly emphasises his cruel flourishes; Radcliffe's Clov has an innocence to him, which suggests their co-dependence is one of naive hope. But of course, hopelessness soon takes over, and the life of Hamm's parents (Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson), slowly dying in their own adjacent dustbins and barely able to share a kiss, reminds us of the inevitable trajectory of these character's lives.
The leads struggle with the text at times; both are competent on their own terms, particularly Cumming's delivery of Hamm's story about a beggar. But together, the actors lack musicality, prioritising clarity over playfulness. Yet despite this weakness, the production has a strange sense of the radical to it. Yes, this is a canonical text written in the 1950s. Yes, this is a starry production at a large, commercial-oriented theatre. But despite its age and status, Endgame remains formally experimental, explicitly literary and proudly non-naturalistic. In a British theatre environment where experimental new writing is constantly pushed to the sidelines, reviving a play such as this is a statement of intent. And although it may confuse those fans waiting by the stage door, it will hopefully also introduce them to a world outside the narrow confines of mainstream British theatre.
Endgame is at The Old Vic until March 28th
View our show pages for more information about Endgame, Old Vic Theatre.
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